Getting Bent: It’s A Quadriceps Tendon Tear Milestone

Quadriceps tendon tear: 3 weeks (and a day) after surgery, and it almost looks like a human leg.So now it’s been three weeks and a day since the surgery; I had my first post-surgical follow-up a week ago. The stitches came out then – Oh God, thank you, I can finally scratch the incision. I also got my orthopedic surgeon’s okay to bend my leg a whole 30 degrees during physical therapy exercises.

30 degrees. Woo.

The thing is, I can’t bend it anymore than that, even though I want to. Even after my physical therapy exercise routines, when my leg’s quadricep muscles, tendons and ligaments are all warmed up, my knee joint is still too stiff and tight for any movement beyond 30 degrees or so. Anything beyond about 32 degrees hurts — like say, someone jabbing a large, serrated knife into my knee and working it around. So I don’t do that.

So now I have months-long process ahead of me as I slowly regain my range of motion. Again, regaining use of my leg beats having no leg at all. Nevertheless, recovering from a quadriceps tendon tear still royally sucks. Wah.

On the plus side, when I wake in the morning, my knee is almost recognizable as part of a human appendage; the swelling has actually gone down enough that I can feel my knee cap; the flesh surrounding it no longer resembles some sort of large, over-ripe fruit – or, as a friend noted, referring to the stitches holding the incision together, a baseball that had been left out in the yard too long.

And yet.

I still depend on and consequently have to wear the straight-leg brace. I can take it off when I’m not moving about, of course. The doctor – Dr. Phat, cuz’ Phat is Wear It’s At – would prefer I sleep with it on; “We have to protect those sutures,” he said last week, referring to his deft knitting that currently keeps my quadriceps tendon attached to my patella. But he grudgingly acquiesced when I told him that I was a “quiet sleeper” – not prone to leg twitches, etc.

Actually I had slept a few nights here and there without the brace on already; I decided that If I didn’t, I soon would not have any flesh left on my leg, I was scratching so much. I would literally use half a tube of hydrocortisone cream every time I took the damn brace off, my skin would be so irritated. I gather from what I read on the Vast Series of Tubes that this is a common problem for those wearing leg braces for weeks and months at a time.

So far I’ve only woken once in extreme pain while not wearing the brace, having jerked my leg during a dream. I put the brace back on that night and to go back to sleep, but was so worried that I had popped some of the aforementioned sutures that sleep was nothing but wishful thinking. But the pain soon subsided and there was no discoloration or additional swelling, so I assume I did no damage.

In any event, at my post-operative checkup Dr. Phat said that my knee looked “better than normal” in terms of recovery, post-operative swelling, etc. I don’t know if better-than-average recuperative abilities are responsible for this, or if it’s because I’ve been pretty religious about doing my PT exercises – it only hurts the first few reps (and when I laugh) – and icing my knee. It was encouraging to hear, particularly bearing in mind that I still faced a month with crutches and a brace – now three weeks, as of this writing.

Doing It Myself, For Myself

Tear your quadriceps tendon and you too can wear this stylish-yet-comfortable full-length, straight-leg brace!On one hand, you could say that I hate this damn brace, pictured here, and you would be right. I literally hate wearing it, and I also hate what it symbolizes. But I also love it, for without it I would not have been able to retain my independence.

It seems I have a pathological need for this; my second biggest fear involves being permanently disabled to the point that I depend on others to fulfill my basic needs (first would be losing cognitive abilities to the point that I arrive at the same dire situation) . I’ve always been this way, even when I was young, but I think having watched my mother and father die in the fashion in which they both did has only made it worse. Seeing the insides of more than a few nursing homes over the years hasn’t exactly helped either.

It’s completely irrational, I know, this refusal of help unless I am absolutely beyond choice in the matter, but it’s the way I’m wired. Inconsiderate people – and one finds they are legion when one is forced to depend on crutches in order to ambulate – piss me off, it’s true.

But it’s the people that insist on helping me when I don’t need it that drive me absolutely batshit crazy. I know they mean well, and I do my best not to let it show, but it is so difficult. If I can, I’d rather do things myself, even if it takes twice as long and is twice as difficult – it’s hard to explain and I don’t usually try. Sometimes I just choke it back, grit my teeth and say “thank you.” Other times I’ll say “No, it’s okay, I can do it myself” and insist on doing just that. And sometimes these people get offended, but usually at that point I’m fed up enough that I can’t even pretend to care.

For what’s worth, if you want to help someone on crutches beyond holding a door for them or something, try asking first. Just. Ask. Don’t assume. I suppose I can only speak for myself, but as for my part, If I need help, I’ll tell you.

Seriously do-gooders. Let it go. If I genuinely need or want help, I will ask.

The thing is, living in a community-oriented culture here in Viet Nam, this goes against the norm. I can’t tell you how many times a Vietnamese friend, colleague or acquaintance, upon seeing me mobile and out and about, has asked “but who is taking care of you at home?” To which I smile and say “Me. I’m taking care of myself at home.” This is usually followed by the half-smile that denotes incredulity. Sometimes they will “tsk” at me and shake their heads.

We won’t even get into the topic of me returning to work part time, which I decided to try this past week – a grand total of three classes, spread out over five days. All of my Vietnamese colleagues – every one – has told me straight out that I should not be back at work, even on a part-time basis. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t mean or nasty about it, although some of them can be quite adamant when expressing genuine concern.

I’ve even had Vietnamese friends volunteer to come over and clean my apartment, cook for me, etc. – offers which I invariably decline albeit with gratitude; I do appreciate them. But I suppose I have (that pathological) need to prove to myself that I’m still independent; I’m still able to take care of myself in spite of my thankfully temporary (I hope) handicap. Even when I was still in the hospital, when I got the okay to take a shower a few days after my surgery, I put my foot down — metaphorically, heh — and sent the orderlies out of the room once we had bagged up my leg.

Three weeks after surgery to repair a quad tendon tear: still ain't got no bilateral symmetry. On the other hand, I’m not a complete moron (although I’m sure many would argue that point). I appreciate it when someone gets the door for me, even though I can do it myself. And I have taken up a friend’s offer to help me go shopping once or twice, as I’ve just moved into a new apartment and had to buy a few things that won’t fit into my backpack. But generally I prefer to do for myself.

So yeah, on the other hand, I appreciate the crutches and the brace. I can’t even manage the smallest of limps at this point my leg is so weak and unstable still. I can stand in one place without the brace on and take a shower, but that’s about it. So without them, I would be helpless.

Nevertheless, I yearn for a future in which I can relegate them a corner to become dusty and forgotten with disuse.